The Furry Little Love Thief

(This blog entry first appeared December 1, 2014, after the passing of Buttercup.)

My cat Buttercup, like so many pets, had many names. Most often we’d call her Cuppie, but Cuppilicious, Licious-Face, Smoocher and Ms. Cup, among others, were in the rotation.

Cuppie was already 12 years old when she came to live with me. My mother had two cats—Cuppie and her sister Anastasia—and they didn’t get along. They also drove her nuts with their eating habits. If my mother left food out, Cuppie would eat so much she might explode. If she only fed them once or twice a day, Anastasia would meow, scratch the door and generally annoy my mother until she fed her. Poor Cuppie ballooned to 22 pounds and lived under the guest bed. My theory: she was ashamed.

I think back now to how my mom tried to give her away on Craigslist and it breaks my heart a little. Mom was frustrated—“No one wants an old, fat cat.” I said, “I’ll take her.” I had just finished law school and the bar exam, I lived alone, and I hadn’t had a pet for nearly 10 years. Mom cried when she put the cat carrier in my car for the trip from Austin to Houston.

Cuppie hid from me for the first few days, but around day three, she turned over on her back and showed me her belly. My mother was ecstatic.

Thus began my love affair with an old, fat cat named Buttercup. I didn’t expect her to be around too much longer—after all, she was already 12, and had had weight problems. I didn’t expect to get attached.

She was affectionate, climbing in my lap during my dinners in front of the TV. Insistent that I pet her while eating. One night she was so insistent, in fact, she managed to turn over the TV tray, along with everything on it. Then she looked at me with eyes wide, frightened, as if to ask, “Why would you do that?”

I met my husband Sterling a few months later. Cuppie did not like men, and Sterling was no exception. But he met her level of doggedness for affection—I would often walk in my bedroom and find Sterling halfway in the closet, trying to coax her out of her hiding spot.

When Sterling and I moved in together, Cuppie came too. Along with Sterling, Cuppie got another roommate—a huge yellow Labrador retriever named Silver. Cuppie was nonplussed. Silver was thrilled. He thought she was a toy we’d brought home just for him. A few episodes of Cuppie smacking him on the nose conveyed to Silver that she was boss, she most certainly did not want to play, and she did not like having her rear end sniffed. Silver grudgingly accepted that he should give her a wide berth if he walked by.

Cuppie lived upstairs for a few months. Sterling didn’t give up on her. Sometimes we’d go up and visit her, and she would acquiesce to his affections. She came downstairs after we strategically moved her food to the ledge next to the master bathroom’s tub. That way she could eat, be away from the dog, and happily clean herself after breakfast.

Most recently, she regularly slept next to us in the bed. Nearly every night around 9 p.m., she would saunter in, hop up and climb on me, no matter what I was doing. Typing on the computer, trying to read a book, or snuggle up next to Sterling, Cuppie would insert herself and start purring. Sometimes she would just sit and stare at me.

“She loves you,” Sterling would chuckle.

Cuppie even snuggled Sterling. Those two came a long way.

She and I were together for four years. She was an old cat, but she had such a good checkup in July I believed I had more time with her. But the day before Thanksgiving, she fell and hurt herself, resulting in some neurological condition that meant her head and her legs weren’t communicating right. Her back legs wouldn’t cooperate, and Cuppie lurched around like a drunk.

The vet explained our limited options. We decided to try a shot of cortisone to see if it would help, and if not, we knew the next day we’d have to put her down. So we brought her home, put her in a little bed, and took her all over the house with us that night. We watched a movie, had drinks on the patio, took pictures with Silver, and fed her cat treats.

That night I had to put her in the bed with us, because she couldn’t jump up on her own. I curled my body around hers like a question mark.

The next morning, I put her next to her feeder for her last meal. I told her she was a furry little love thief.

I never expected to love her so much. I never expected her absence to be so palpable. I never expected my heart to be broken.